Way back in 1992 when we opened the Bakehouse, there were 8 breads on our small list of offerings: Rustic Italian, Farm Bread, Pecan Raisin, Sesame Semolina, 8 Grain 3 Seed, Jewish Rye, Challah, and Pumpernickel. The following year we added a few more—one of them was Chocolate Cherry bread. Today, in 2020, there are literally hundreds of great items that we make at the Bakehouse. Many go on what we call “vacation” but then come back, often for extended visits. That’s been even more true this year as we work to get through the challenges of life in a pandemic. Chocolate Cherry bread, it turns out, took much of the summer off. But now that we’re all ramping up for the holidays, it’s back, two days a week.
In doing the work to write about creativity for what became “Secret #39: Creating Creativity” in Part 3, it became clear to me that creativity is mostly about meaningfully connecting two things that hadn’t previously been connected. Hence . . . Chocolate Cherry bread. When we first made it, neither bread nor chocolate-cherries were new news. What got a lot of attention was the idea of putting them into one, very wonderful, format.
The confectionary combo of chocolate and cherries goes back to the middle of the 19th century. They were on record in the U.S. being made by a company called Cella’s in 1864, the last year of the Civil War (or what anarchist Albert Parsons’ used to call “The Slaveholder’s Rebellion”). Chocolate-covered cherries became famous half a century later, in great part because of Dolly Varden chocolates. Founded in 1900 in Cincinnati by a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria named Isaac Weinreich (the brand name came from a Dickens novel character—back in that era, one wouldn’t use a Jewish name for mass marketing), the firm turned what was originally only a small piece of their product line into a nationally-known confection. Other companies started doing the same, and by the time we opened the Bakehouse in 1992, chocolate and cherries had been popular for nearly 90 years.
The bread has been a hit pretty much from the start. I do remember a few cynics, but they were quickly converted. Chocolate Cherry Bread is just too good to naysay. Michael London, who taught us the recipe, remembers working to make something that had a good chocolate flavor, that wasn’t sweet, and would combine both cocoa powder and finished chocolate. At the Bakehouse we make the bread with organic flour, and it’s made with a natural sour starter. The integrity of the actual bread—for me it’s as much about the bread as the chocolate and the cherries—is a big thing that sets this apart from many other chocolate-cherry offerings that are out there these days. Belgian chocolate, French chocolate, Farm bread dough, and Michigan dried cherries—without any sugar added, the bread is remarkably not sweet. Make bread pudding. Warm it in the oven. Toast (carefully) and put some vanilla gelato on. The aromas when you heat it up are exceptionally enticing.
My friend Ed Levine, who started “Serious Eats,” says,
“The Zingerman’s Bakehouse makes a chocolate cherry bread that can be used as the base of the best French toast you’ve ever had in your life.”
People have been going crazy for the Chocolate Cherry bread for nearly 30 years now. It makes folks happy. Maybe I should add it to the list of ways to counter worry above. For at least a few minutes, the worries of the world will almost certainly be shifted aside. The slogan of Dolly Varden was the very effective, “When words fail, send Dolly Varden chocolates!” I’m gonna modify it for the moment. “When words fail (as they seem to do so often this year,) bring Chocolate Cherry bread.”
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- Better still, let us ship some for you from coast to coast.